Facts About Finance and Credit Cards in Dubai

Alice Wilkie spent 3 months in Dubai designing a small bank. She brought back 48 observations about finance and life in the UAE city where there are 52 different banks today.

One woman we met carried a photo of her signature on her smartphone, so she could copy it exactly every time she signed a cheque. Signatures on paper cheques are still a huge part of doing business in Dubai.

Pre-written or blank cheques are used as a guarantee of payment and security for the payee. Rent is paid with post-dated cheques, loans are guaranteed with a cheque for 150% of the loan amount. Some spoke of leaving parents at home in India with a stack of blank signed cheques to cover bills and expenses.

In 2012, Al Hilal Bank launched a credit card with a built-in digital compass and e-ink display. When you push a button, the card indicates the direction to the Qibla (in Mecca). The promotional video is fantastic.

Al Hilal also launched a scented credit card in 2015, and are famous for offering personalised account numbers — a flashback to the License Plate Boom during the noughties, when Saeed Abdul Ghafour Khouri paid $14m for Dubai license plate “1”.

…Dubai is still a cash economy. We saw people making large purchases with handfuls of cash. 22% of residents don’t have a debit card, and 37% use their card just once a week or less.

Shopping at the Burj al Arab

Citibank single use credit card numbers are great, so I don’t have an issue with personalized numbers. After all you can personalize the look and feel of a credit card in the U.S.

Although I’ve heard of Sharia-compliant credit cards this might just be a little much:

Wilkie reports that bank-to-bank funds transfers for payroll can take two days to clear.

Folks in the UAE are really missing out if they don’t get the new UAE Starwood credit card which has a 50,000 point signup bonus.

(HT: Marginal Revolution)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. RE: Al Hilal Qiblack credit card–cool idea. Would be nice if Chase or Amex could emblazon their cards with a working compass. How handy would that be!

  2. People in the UAE are really missing out if they don’t get the 50,000 spg card? Really? Seriously… What type of thought leader pushes a card with 20,000 spend in the first three months and 700 dollar annual fee?

    Zero credibility Gary

  3. Ehch: Wrong. And Wrong.

    The min spend is $10,000 over 3 months (not unlike some new Amex products in US.) And the annual fee is 1500 AED (= ~ 400 USD). For a 50,000 SPG bonus card, it’s not all that bad.

  4. @Ehch card fee and bonus are now as Veejay describes. (the spend requirement at launch for the bonus was higher but has since been reduced)

  5. ENBD SPG card wanted an AED 1m security cheque to open the account. That was what turned me off.

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